Minnesota is facing the defending Super Bowl champions on their home turf, one of the NFL's best defenses and one the league's best passing offenses. But the Vikings are 6-0 and don't sound the least bit intimidated.
On Thursday, Adrian Peterson said he seems to have the most success facing 3-4 defensive schemes, which the Steelers run. Several minutes later, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier offered up some words regarding the Steelers' passing game.
"We want Pittsburgh to throw the ball 40-45 times on Sunday. If they do, we feel like that's to our advantage," Frazier said. "We need to execute what we do and get turnovers and things will work out fine. But we don't want you to be a balanced football team. That doesn't help us. We want you to be one-dimensional. That's not going to change. We just have to improve on certain things."
Wanting the Steelers to put the ball in the air that often may be a dicey proposition for the Vikings, who have the league's 24th-rated pass defense and are facing Pittsburgh's second-ranked passing offense.
Ben Roethlisberger has been one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league so far. He is first in the league in passing yards with 1,887, second in completion percentage at 72.5, second in completions with 150 and fourth in passer rating at 104.5.
At Heinz Field, Roethlisberger has thrown for more than 300 yards six times and has a 31-8 record. He's posted a perfect passer rating twice at home. He also leads the NFL in average gain per pass (9.1 yards) and fourth-quarter completion percentage (82.1).
But Frazier insists that stopping the run first will always be the primary goal for his defense.
"For us, that's how we want it. We feel really good about our pass rush," he said.
"That's been our mantra throughout my tenure here. We are going to stop the run. We want you to have to throw the football and that's probably not going to change. I know it's not going to change."
Roethlisberger's receiving targets have been enjoying the spoils of his success. He has three of the top 25 receivers in the NFL in receptions. Hines Ward is first with 41 catches, tight end Heath Miller is eighth with 34 catches and Santonio Holmes is 21st with 28. Rookie receiver Mike Wallace will also test the Vikings' secondary, which is likely to be thinned with the potential loss of Antoine Winfield, who missed practice Wednesday and Thursday with a sprained foot
On the other side of the ball, the Steelers boast the second-ranked rushing defense in the league, but Peterson sounded like he's been enjoying going against 3-4 defensive schemes, which the Steelers have employed with great success over the years.
"I actually like playing against 3-4 fronts more. If you date back, you can probably see that (against) 3-4 fronts I haven't had a majority of my big games but I like facing those defensive fronts more," he said. "You got three down linemen and four backers, and when you are able to get in sync with your offensive line and press and get those guys to flow over it really opens creases. You just have to be patient and be able to hit them. (I like) more lanes."
Actually, Peterson has had solid success against the 3-4 this year. He faced 3-4 defensive fronts in four of six games this season, including both of his 100-yard games. He ran for 180 yards against Cleveland's defense in the season opener and put up 143 yards against Baltimore's three-man line last Sunday. The other two 3-4 fronts he faced yielded 85 yards (against San Francisco) and 55 yards (against Green Bay). That gives him a 116-yard average per game facing that brand of defense while averaging 81 yards against the two 4-3 fronts he has faced this year (Detroit and St. Louis).
But personnel can have as much to do with his success as scheme.
"I think each defense (is unique). No matter if you're playing the same front, you have different guys and different attitudes and different mindsets," he said. "With that, it's going to make them a totally different group and how they play.
One thing Peterson has noticed is that teams might be starting to respect Brett Favre's ability in the passing game, which could open up opportunities for the league's leading rusher.
"There were times where (the Ravens) had eight in the box. There were times where they pulled some guys out," he said. "I'm sure they came in with the main focus to stop the run. We just did a great job up front in being physical. As a running back group, we did a good job of pressing the hole and putting guys on guys and that is what it's all about. That is how you are able to find those little creases and come up with some big runs."
But, clearly, the Vikings aren't showing signs of intimidation facing the Steelers, who are 3-0 at home and on a three-game winning streak.
Quarterback Brett Favre showed already this year he can handle a 3-4 defense, but that scheme does pose some issues for him.
"They give you so many different looks that it's hard to pin down who's coming (on a blitz)," Favre said. "You know for the most part who their rushers are and their base scheme. Do they play out of a two-deep coverage, a three-deep coverage? They mix it up who rushes and who doesn't rush. It's a combination of backers coming.
"… It makes it a little more difficult as far as protections and things like that. They really don't give up big plays because the back end, I don't want to say they play conservative, but they are willing to keep things in front of them."
The Steelers have 17 sacks this season, led by linebacker James Harrison's six. In fact, the active defensive linemen only account for one of the team's 17 sacks (DE Aaron Smith, who is on injured reserve, has two).
"There are a lot of people in the box, which makes it more difficult. But which guys are in the box makes it more difficult," Favre said. "They are just good at it. They have been doing it for so long they are good at disguising and things like that. Physically you have to beat them. They get after you.
"… This scheme makes it so hard to prepare. It's pretty stressful."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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